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Habitat opening doors for veterans
Local chapter starts push to build homes for former servicemembers
military vet to be homeowner
Army veteran Cristal Boyles hugs her son Alex after she was surprised with the announcement that she will be the next Habitat homeowner in Effingham County. - photo by Photo provided

Earlier this month, Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County dedicated a house for a single mother and her two young sons.

The organization’s next mission is to build a home for an Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm.

With the Sept. 9 dedication of the home for Kelwanda Wallace and her sons Kelton, 4, and Keldrick, 1, Habitat for Humanity has built nearly 20 homes in Effingham County. Wallace and her sons had been living with her parents after losing their previous home in a fire.

Now Habitat is about halfway toward raising the $65,000 needed to build a house for Cristal Boyles. She works at Effingham County Jail after serving six years in the Army, including nearly a year in Iraq, as a transport truck driver.

Cristal will live at the house with her 17-year-old son Alex and her husband Larry, an active volunteer in Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County. Larry and Cristal met through Habitat and were married two weeks ago.

“It’s a dream come true,” Cristal said of being selected to be a Habitat homeowner. “It will feel great to have my own place and be able to come home every day and know it’s mine.”

Helping the Boyles family is part of a new initiative by the Effingham Habitat chapter to assist local veterans with affordable housing. Development director George Groce, a U.S. Air Force veteran, got the idea after reading an article that stated 25 percent of all homeless people in the country are veterans.

“Our veterans have done so much for me and for our country. It is our way of saying ‘thank you,’” Groce said. “We have to be willing to reach and invest in our veterans. Our veterans have willingly given so much for us.”

To raise the rest of the money needed to build the Boyles’ house, Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County will host a military ball on Nov. 12 — the day after Veterans Day — at New Ebenezer Retreat Center.

Tickets for the ball are $25 per person. Also, $10 chances will be sold to enter a drawing for a three-day, two-night stay at the Dillard House in north Georgia.

Two guest speakers — Franklin Goldwire, a Vietnam veteran and retired lieutenant colonel, and Lucas Hynes, who has served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — will share their experiences in the military. Music and dancing will follow the guest speakers.

“I will be overjoyed to know that we are one step closer to helping this deserving veteran and her family realize their dreams of home ownership,” Groce said. “The best day will be when we get to hand over the key to their new home.”

Along with Habitat’s familiar mission of building homes for low-income families, the Effingham chapter is also helping veterans with critical home repairs.

Disabled Navy veteran Kevin Thompson described the Veterans Repair Program as “an answer to (his) prayers.” Thompson recently bought a home in Rincon that needed some major repairs, and Habitat volunteers stepped in to replace windows and doors, repair sagging floors and remodel the master bathroom.

“Habitat has always been driven by the mantra that everyone deserves a decent, affordable place to call home. In the past that has always meant building a new home or doing a major renovation,” Groce said. “We have found that we can help more families if help with home repairs and not wait until those minor repairs become safety issues or building code violations. It just makes good sense.”

For more information about the local Habitat for Humanity chapter or to buy tickets to the military ball, call Groce at 826-6433, visit the Habitat ReStore at 3605 Highway 21 South in Rincon, or go to